Choose the right words - Step 6 – Revise

7 Steps to Better Writing - Charles Maxwell 2020

Choose the right words
Step 6 – Revise

Take care to use words that do what you want them to do. Every word has a history—a public history of how it has been used in the language, a history in your profession, and a history with your audience. Use words that accomplish your purpose.

As you tailor words to your readership, avoid tripping up your readers by eliminating the following:

· Words and phrases that suggest bias

· Value laden words

· Jargon

· Ornamental and extravagant words

· Cute words and phrases

· Vulgar, crude, and coarse language

· Overly informal speech, slang, and dialects

· Excessive use of abbreviations and poorly known acronyms

· Archaic and obsolete words

· Poetic expressions

· Foreign words and phrases

· Unorthodox spelling

· Overly technical words (when simpler words will do)

The following sections amplify this list.

Steer clear of gender bias

The following examples illustrate methods of writing in a gender-neutral manner, when it is necessary to describe a non-specific person or to avoid bias.

Poor: Gender Specific

Better: Gender Neutral

The company mailed each employee his check.

The company mailed checks to all employees.

The employee should contact her supervisor.

The employee should contact his supervisor.

Employees should contact their supervisors. / You should contact your supervisor. / The employee should contact his or her supervisor.

Each secretary can contact her supervisor.

Contact your supervisor.

businessman / businesswoman

professional / manager / executive



man hours

hours / labor hours / labor /work hours /shifts


fabricated / manufactured /synthetic / artificial


officer / police officer

spokesman / spokeswoman

spokesperson / representative



Also, be aware of bias concerning age, race, sexual orientation, and disabilities. Here are examples.

Potentially Biased

Less Biased



culturally deprived / culturally disadvantaged


the aged / old people / senior citizens

persons over 65 years of age

men / women / males / females

persons / people / individuals

beginner / unskilled worker

new employee / recently hired person

There are times when specific reference to gender or race are important, even required. So, do not eliminate precision in your writing, but use respectful terms.

Note that with some publications, it has become popular to use only feminine pronouns. While this is appropriate for material written for women, when writing for both men and women, it is best to use gender-neutral pronouns.

Some authors switch back and forth between masculine and feminine pronouns when the gender is non-specific. This creates needless confusion. Even using the clumsy he/she or his/her works better, although superior solutions exist, such as changing singular nouns to plural forms and using the pronouns they, them, and their.

Avoid value laden words

Consider a person, who is upset, who rants the following: “Overnight it became a real problem! Everybody who was anybody was there! It was criminal!” In this example, even simple words like real, problem, everybody, anybody, and criminal take on value. Avoid using value-laden words in any form in your writing.

What makes a word value laden is how the word is used. The same word in another context can be fine.

Avoid jargon

Jargon is a special term defined in terms of a specific activity, group, or profession. Jargon often is appropriate when communicating within a group, but problems arise when special terminology is used with the public. It is fine for a geologist to write the following when communicating with other geologists and mining engineers:

The structure includes intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks derived from a common magmatic source. The quartz porphyry is veined with quartz and orthoclase.

Nevertheless, this passage is ill suited for most other readers.

Avoid extravagant words

Some articulations exhibit a superfluity of sesquipedalia. Neglecting to circumvent the plethora will discombobulate even the most ardent bibliophile’s cerebral cortex.

Avoid Cute Words and Phrases

In business writing, avoid cute words, such as mommy, tummy, itsy bitsy, gee whizz.

Avoid profane, crude, vulgar, suggestive, and coarse language

This will avert needlessly offending readers.

Avoid overly informal writing, slang, and dialects

Yous got that?

Avoid excessive use of abbreviations and poorly known acronyms

Here is an example of excess acronyms relating to the US National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA):

Not all FAs require a full EIS. Some require EAs first. The finding of the EA determines whether an EIS is required. If the EA indicates NSI, then the LA can release a FONSI and carry on with the PA. Otherwise, the agency must conduct an EIS. Some FAs avoid the EA and EIS, if they meet the CATEX.[17]

Environmentalists and lawyers might understand this, but few others do. So, steer clear of acronyms for general business writing, unless they are widely understood.

Avoid archaic and obsolete words

Verily, thou shouldst harken to this gardyloo.

Avoid overly technical words when simpler words will do

Do not write hyperpyrexia, when fever will do, unless you are a physician or pharmacist.

Avoid poetic expressions

Poetry and verse surely serve for wonder and grace,

But beware if poetry finds space in the business place.

Avoid foreign words and phrases

Use foreign words in business writing only if they are essential to understanding. If you are writing about a situation in a foreign country, it may be appropriate to use foreign words. However, if you are writing about common ideas, then use common English words. In other words, no escribas en español and n'écris pas en français.

Avoid unorthodox spelling

If you question the spelling of a word, consult a good dictionary (such as Wiktionary) or do a Google or Bing search using the word plus the word define or definition. You can find more advice in the spelling section in the following chapter, which discusses step 7.